When it became known last month that rookie shortstop Corey Seager intended on participating in the Home Run Derby at the 2016 All-Star Game festivities, the so-called “swing experts” of the Dodgers‘ fan base made themselves known quickly, and warned that Seager’s swing mechanics and second-half offensive production may be negatively affected.
Sabermetricians had a field day with Joc Pederson in the months following his involvement with the Derby last season. Prior to the All-Star break, the 24-year-old outfielder seemed to be a cinch to win the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Before competing in the 2015 Derby, he was flashing an impressive .851 OPS, yet in the first four weeks after the contest, his OPS was a paltry .630. Pederson hit 20 home runs over 89 games in the first half of last season, an average of one home run every 4.1 games, however, in the second half he only hit a total of six.
Some analysts concluded that the main problem with Pederson was he was unable to hit the ball as hard as he did before the break. FanGraphs classified 41.5 percent of all balls hit by Pederson as being hit hard in the first half. In the second half, that rate dropped to 34.5 percent. His number of softly hit balls correspondingly skyrocketed from 14.5 percent before the Home Run Derby to 31.0 percent afterwards.
Whether it was a steady diet of sliders from opposing pitchers, or simply some bad movements in his swing mechanics, Pederson appears to be in a better spot this season. And acting in a proactive, yet determined manner, Seager joined Pederson, along with Oklahoma City hitting coach Shawn Wooten, former OKC coach and current San Antonio Missions hitting coach Johnny Washington, and new Dodgers hitting coach Turner Ward in numerous sessions last winter involving swing diagnosis and mechanics maintenance.
Whether it be natural hitting talent alone, hours in the film room strategizing against opposing pitchers, or a combination of both, Seager hasn’t missed a beat after the offseason, and his production certainly hasn’t declined since participating in this year’s Derby.
After being called up last September, he slashed .337/.425/.561 in 27 games played in his initial stint with the Dodgers in 2015. Those numbers, along with the hype of being one of MLB’s top prospects, pushed the 22-year-old into the preseason lead as a favorite for the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year.
Following a warm and relatively quiet spring, Seager was honored as NL Rookie of the Month for June, having led all major league rookies with a .343 batting average, 35 hits, eight home runs, 20 runs scored, 69 total bases, and a .676 slugging percentage. In addition, he headed the NL rookie class with a .409 on-base percentage and eight doubles. His 13 RBI were the third-most among NL rookies in June.
And it’s that point of the year where the honors and milestones will continue to accumulate rapidly for the young Charlotte native. A solo home run in the first inning of Monday’s contest against the Phillies, his 20th of the year, gave him sole possession of the Dodgers franchise record for home runs in a season by a shortstop.
Last Saturday, he set the Dodgers’ rookie record with his 31st double of the season, passing Dodgers’ legend Eric Karros.
For the year, Seager is hitting .302/.357/.532 with 31 doubles, 21 home runs, 54 RBI and 73 runs scored over 108 games played. It may have the feeling of being a bit far-fetched to the average fan, but there have been rumblings of his name among the leaders for the NL MVP race.
Regardless, all signs are pointing towards Seager maintaining his outstanding numbers and piling up more honors and rookie records during the stretch run of the season. And with all that being said, at least through early August, it’s definitely safe to say that his swing has not been negatively affected by the dreaded Home Run Derby curse.